Directed by Glenn Silber
In this film by Glenn Silber, Time Magazine’s national correspondent Karen Tumulty contemplates that only a year ago, to breach the issue of health care reform would have spelled instant death for any politician. “By 2008, politicians had pretty much decided that health care reform was something they didn’t want to go near…” Yet last week, only 10 months into Obama’s term, the $829 billion dollar health care reform bill was approved by the Senate Finance Committee on a 14-9 vote. We’ve come far, and Silber’s Labor Day attributes our significant attitude change about health care not only to the grass-roots campaign efforts of Obama supporters, but, importantly, the salt-of-the earth mobilization of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Comprised of American homecare workers, security guards, nurses, probation officers and hospital clerks, this massive union, Silber asserts, not only shaped policy but significantly influenced the nomination process. Silber’s interviews and footage of meetings between the politicians and union leaders clarify that the SEIU put democratic candidates Clinton, Edwards and Obama into pressure-vices at the beginning of the nomination process, forcing them to formalize their health-care platforms and initiatives. In an interview early on in the film, Newsweek ‘s Jonathan Alter avers “the SEIU is the fastest growing union in the United States, pretty much the biggest one, and if you’re a Democrat it’s… essential to have it.”
Filming rallies, behind-the scenes dry-erase boards, and once the nomination was cinched, early-morning Obama-canvassing trips to rural Pennsylvania, Silber captures the SEIU’s extensive organizational efforts. For the general election outreach, the union released major manpower for door-to-door work; sending 2,000 trained, paid, union members in purple t-shirts to spread the word of Obama.
The film’s title refers to the history of the labor lobby, and also the SEIU-co sponsored concert, “Take Back Labor Day,” featuring Mos Def and Tom Morello, held in St. Paul across from, and at odds with, the Republican National Convention. Featuring only positive interviews on the subject, and providing a background that casts the SEIU’s role in the 2008 election as an important landmark in the history of the labor lobby, it’s clear that Silber took sides when embedding himself for this documentary. His proposal that members of the SEIU are the unsung heros of the 2008 election and partially responsible for the current administration’s progressive platform could perhaps be a slight stretch, but in this case, the bias is easily forgiven, considering the lack of credit previously granted to this union by the mainstream media. What remains is a documentary on the moves taken by the SEIU to push the issues that most concern unionized, working-class Americans to the fore of National policy debate.
Opens October 30